The graduation ceremony was supposed to be a celebration, but one 30-year-old woman was crying.
Casa Horeb, a Mennonite congregation in Guatemala City, was hosting a commencement event last year for people who had completed school equivalency courses offered through its ministry, Educación para la Vida (Education for Life, or EduVida).
EduVida director Elena Bercián recalls the woman had been mired in alcoholism and missed a lot of classes.
“But last year she was president of her class and took responsibility with good grades,” she said. “She wasn’t the best student, but I told her she was a star because she was able to achieve a lot.”
Few ministries operate on only one level. There’s the project itself, made up of workers and volunteers, funding streams, planning meetings and other details. But then there are the secondary levels — those spaces where the Holy Spirit intervenes and intercedes.
EduVida occupies an awkward space for Mennonites. The free education courses are offered in concert with the state, which will revoke accreditation if someone proselytizes.
“Elena had to rebuild the church’s reputation with the government to prove that there were evangelicals who knew how to follow the rules and were ethical,” said Benjamín Sywulka, an elder at Casa Horeb.
Like water flowing through a rocky riverbed, God can still find ways to work around obstacles, if Christians carry the water. “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).
Sywulka said basically every participant comes to the program with low self esteem, family issues and abuse, and cultural understandings from childhood that suggest women shouldn’t study.
“This isn’t an education program, it’s a healing program,” he said. “The need they’re trying to solve is really improving their own perception of themselves, proving to themselves they can be more than others have told them they are.”
The goal was to provide education, but the ministry ended up accomplishing much more. While the church has given much to the students, it has also been transformed by the love shown back.
“We’ve talked about the church as a family for them,” Bercián said. “Last year in the graduation at the end of the year, one of the students was crying because nobody from her family came to the ceremony. But in the end she said this is her family to celebrate together.
“I always say not only are they graduating, but we are, as a program, graduating. It’s more than numbers. We’ve become mutually enriched.”